Press group condemns governor’s “coercion” of newspaper
PUERTO RICO–The Inter American Press Association issued a resolution in late October urging the governor of Puerto Rico to end his administration’s “policy of coercion” against the El Nuevo Dia newspaper.
The resolution also stated that the association would disperse a committee to Puerto Rico in March to “carry out a first-hand investigation about this situation.”
The resolution follows several months of complaints by El Nuevo Dia, which charges that Gov. Pedro Rossello is applying economic and governmental pressure to the paper as retribution for critical stories it had run earlier this year.
El Nuevo Dia alleges that the stories, which highlighted governmental mismanagement of public utilities, prompted Rossello in April to pull all government advertising from the paper. The advertising void has cost the paper $500,000 a month, The Associated Press reported.
The Puerto Rican government denies the charge, saying the advertising suspension was a marketing decision. Editor & Publisher reported that El Nuevo Dia’s primary competitor, El Vocero, also dismissed the allegations, calling them “preposterous,” and attributing the decision to a “huge” advertising rate increase by El Nuevo Dia.
The paper’s co-editors, however, say the advertising boycott is not Rossello’s only bullying effort. In a September column in The American Editor, Luis Ferre-Rangel and Maria Luisa Ferre-Rangel accused the government of targeting Puerto Rican Cement, a company partly owned by the Ferre family. The two wrote that “Since June, the company has been investigated systematically by five different government agencies” and that “The company’s cement plant has also been inspected several times.”
According to the AP, El Nuevo Dia also says the government ordered a tax audit of the paper and reneged on large government contracts that had been awarded to other Ferre-owned businesses.
Furthermore, the co-editors wrote that the government withheld from the paper records pertaining to public utilities. “While we were fighting in court for these documents, the [government] gave them to El Vocero, which published a soft article on the subject,” the two wrote.
The government maintains that it is not harassing the paper. According to the AP, Angel Morey, Rossello’s chief of staff, “accused El Nuevo Dia of an ‘abusive’ drumbeat of publicity and predicted the IAPA visit will have ‘the benefit of showing the other side of the coin.'”
But in a late October editorial, El Nuevo Dia’s chairman and publisher wrote that in a meeting with the paper’s co-editors, Rossello’s press secretary, Pedro Rosario Urdaz, explained “what information the government considered ‘negative’ and inappropriate to publish.” The editorial said Urdaz told the editors “If you back off, we’ll back off.”
The editorial further charged that in another meeting, Morey told the editors that favorable columns would improve the paper’s standing with the government.
Puerto Rico’s justice secretary said in late October that he was considering launching a formal investigation into the matter, the AP reported.